As worldwide populations grow and affluence increases, the demand for food and water is on the rise. At the same time, climate variability and change are making it difficult to provide water where and when it is needed. Floods destroy communities in one part of the world, while in another people trek miles every day just to get enough water to survive. Given its pervasiveness and the need for local action, water scarcity is becoming one of the most difficult challenges we need to address in the 21st century.
What We Do
Founded in January 2008, the Columbia Water Center is committed to understanding and addressing both the role and scarcity of fresh water in the 21st century. The Water Center was established for the purpose of studying the diminishing levels of fresh water and creating innovative sustainable and global solutions.
Columbia Water Center (CWC) combines multidisciplinary academic research with solutions-based fieldwork to develop and test creative responses to water challenges around the world.
Columbia Water Center Research Themes
America’s Water. America’s water security faces increasing pressures on multiple fronts. Through radical technical innovations and superior management of water systems, CWC plans to provide global leadership in how 21st century cities are designed and watercourses are structured and managed for the public good.
Data Science and Multi-Scale Predictions. Successful adaptation to climate change and variability requires an understanding of climate scenarios that accurately represent weather-related uncertainties. CWC researchers are leading innovation of novel data-based methods for risk prediction and assessment to inform risk management strategists, corporate supply chain managers, and city and national planners.
The Columbia Global Floods Initiative. Today, floods are the world’s most prevalent natural disaster and a major contributor to the average annual loss of life and property. CWC is taking a comprehensive approach to minimize extreme flood impacts by integrating short- to long-term climate forecasting, reservoir and operations design and land use considerations. To mitigate the effects of extreme floods, researchers are identifying supply-chain vulnerabilities,
examining disaster preparedness and response and creating new insurance and other financial instruments.
Risk and Financial Instruments. Supply chains are dependent on both resources and transportation that are subject to challenging conditions such as floods, droughts, earthquakes and oil spills. CWC researchers are mapping supply-chain exposure pathways and environmental disaster clusters to identify impacts on different sections of the supply chains. Novel regional financial risk management products are being developed to provide businesses, governments and other institutions the necessary tools to mitigate supply-chain risks.
Water-Food-Energy Nexus. Water resources are inextricably intertwined with food and energy production. The largest uses of freshwater are agricultural irrigation, energy extractions, and the thermal cooling of energy producing power plants. CWC studies how the water, food, and energy sectors are interrelated and how climate affects this dynamic. These analyses are used to guide sustainable regional development, informing agriculture decisions based on water, soil, climate, and the proximity to major demand centers.
Where We Are
To address the globally interconnected character of the world’s water crisis, CWC has assembled expert teams in key hot spots around the world, directed by a core group of researchers at Columbia University in New York.
In North America, the CWC analyzes the climate context of floods and droughts across the USA, providing measures of water risk at a county level. Stochastic hydroclimate prediction models inform system optimization, and risk mitigation;
In Africa, our project team designed and implemented a largescale rainwater harvesting and groundwater recharge system to support irrigation, drinking water and rural development in Ethiopia, and In Mali, CWC secured technology and financing for pumps and gave guidance to market informed crop selection which helped transform rural women’s lives.
In Europe, CWC Researchers identified Atmospheric Rivers associated with major floods in France, and are working on seasonal climate prediction for supply chain risk mitigation in the UK.
In Asia, CWC researches solutions to national water scarcity in India as well as multifaceted, targeted projects in the states of Punjab, Gujarat, Jharkhand and Assam. These projects range from how changes in cropping patterns, irrigation technologies and water/energy pricing policies can be used to address groundwater depletion and contamination, to addressing floods and developing rural drinking water systems. In China, CWC is developing comprehensive water risk mapping/prediction and water quantity and quality management strategies in the Yangtze River basin.
In South America, CWC designed a participatory evaluation process in Brazil that helps communities analyze technical and social factors key to providing drinking water to residents, site by site. The CWC also developed a seasonal climate forecasting program, a water contract-based allocation system and reservoir optimization tools that are used by the water agency for informed resource management to mitigate climate risk.
For more information, see the Columbia Water Center’s One-Page Factsheet